Vinegar and Steel Wool Ebonizing

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Forum topic by JADobson posted 06-11-2014 04:48 PM 2360 views 0 times favorited 11 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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656 posts in 1532 days

06-11-2014 04:48 PM

Topic tags/keywords: vinegar steel wool spf ebonizing

I’m trying a steel wool and vinegar finish on spf and I’m not getting the dark finish that I’m seeing other people get. Instead I’m getting a red-brown that does not look nice at all.

I’m using regular white vinegar and extra fine steel wool from Lee Valley. One thing I’ve noticed is that the wool doesn’t seem to be dissolving like I thought it was supposed to. Is that my problem? Any suggestions? Thanks to anyone who can help.

-- James

11 replies so far

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99 posts in 2635 days

#1 posted 06-11-2014 04:56 PM

I tried this a few years ago on some hard maple, after giving the maple a washcoat of bark tan (promotes the chemical reaction that turns things black). I wasn’t thrilled with the evenness and ended up touching things up with minwax ebony or black stain. Next time, I’ll skip the vinegar and steel wool and just go straight to the stain.

View LiveEdge's profile


476 posts in 1041 days

#2 posted 06-11-2014 05:06 PM

I was just looking into this method and the site I saw was putting a strong tea mixture on the wood first and then putting the steel wool/vinegar solution over top. Maybe that would make a difference? I think they also recommended apple cider vinegar but said white would work in a pinch.

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656 posts in 1532 days

#3 posted 06-11-2014 05:11 PM

I’ve tried tea on a few sample boards and it doesn’t seem to make a difference. It was just left overs from my morning cup though. I could try a very strong brew.

-- James

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207 posts in 2891 days

#4 posted 06-11-2014 06:04 PM

I’ve done this on walnut with great success. I’ve also tried on lighter woods with poor results. I left the steel wool in the vinegar for several weeks. It doesn’t dissolve. Oddly, it stayed crystal clear until I removed the steel wool and then vinegar turned very dark.

An example of it on walnut can be seen on this picture frame that I did.

-- "Never measure......cut as many times as necessary." - PeteMoss

View bowedcurly's profile


515 posts in 1150 days

#5 posted 06-11-2014 06:14 PM

there is a ink that works much better it’s on youtube, only cost 12 bucks and it’s much easier to use, I guess just punch in ebonizing on youtube and there should be a guy giving a class showing many different types of ebonizing during the middle of the show he pulls out his secret ebonizing ink kinda funny, but very good. Woodturners of Southeast Missouri on Youtube ther is a certain kind of steelwool that works mucho better than others the guy also talks about this. good luck

-- Staining killed the wood<<<<<>>>>>Dyeing gave it life

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3969 posts in 1772 days

#6 posted 06-11-2014 07:24 PM

You’ve got to use woods w/ high tannin content, like oak and walnut.

-- Bondo Gaposis

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19 posts in 1006 days

#7 posted 06-11-2014 08:08 PM

If your steel wool didn’t dissolve then it is probably oil coated. You’ll need to wash the oil off first. The iron come from the steel is what makes the iron tannin salt pigment in the wood.

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25 posts in 870 days

#8 posted 06-14-2014 09:24 PM

Gilgaron is right: Four-0 steel wool comes with oil on it, and you need to get it off with detergent and water. You also need to control the tannin content of the wood, and this is best done with quebracho extract bark tan available from and elsewhere. For a thorough explanation of the process, see this article in Popular Woodworking:

I’ve ebonized high-tannin woods such as black walnut and black acacia and woods with no tannin at all, including hard maple. The key is how you use the quebracho tea.

-- Juan Vergara, California,

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25 posts in 870 days

#9 posted 06-18-2014 08:04 AM

James, et al: Oops. It wasn’t black walnut that I ebonized. It was the English walnut for the infill on this plane:

English walnut has a grayish tint to it and ebonizes well, though as I noted in my earlier post, you must control the tannin content with quebracho tea.

I have a chunk of California black walnut that I’m getting ready to shape for the infill on a No. 3 plane, and I may ebonize it. I’ll test the idea on scrap tomorrow, and if it works, I’ll post a photo.

-- Juan Vergara, California,

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660 posts in 1950 days

#10 posted 06-18-2014 12:12 PM

Any one try to ebonize some of the ebony look alike woods(already dark) to look even more like ebony ?

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25 posts in 870 days

#11 posted 06-19-2014 04:16 AM

It helps to start out with darkish woods, but my experiment with black walnut tells me to leave reddish woods alone.

Here’s what I started out with:

I sanded each block to 220 grit, then applied wood grain filler to the block on the right, to see whether it would make a difference.

Here’s what I ended up with:

The photo doesn’t show it, but there’s some splotchiness in the block on the left, and the surface isn’t buttery like that of the block on the right.

Even so, my eye tells me there’s red underneath the black on both blocks. This might be a plus if that’s what you want, but my thinking is that when I want black, I want black, and I didn’t get it with black walnut, the name notwithstanding.

-- Juan Vergara, California,

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